Second Portland school chief finalist meets the public

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PORTLAND — Emmanuel Caulk, an assistant superintendent in the Philadelphia public school system, was introduced Tuesday as the second finalist for the superintendent of schools job in Portland.

Caulk made public appearances around the city on Tuesday to talk with parents and teachers about the School Department, its strengths, and its direction for the future.

Caulk has taught and been an administrator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, he said. He has been an assistant superintendent in East Baton Rouge Parish, La., and has worked in the school districts of Chicago and rural Penn Manor in Lancaster County, Pa.

He met with about a dozen teachers, school district staff, and parents at the East End Community School on his first public stop of the day.

Before the meeting began, Caulk and Grace Valenzuela, director of Portland’s Multilingual Department, arranged chairs into a circle in a school conference room.

After introducing himself as “Manny,” Caulk made a point of spending most of the hour-long meeting asking what others in the room considered “points of pride” in Portland’s school system, and answering their questions.

Before and during the meeting he sat while speaking in a round-table fashion with those who had come to meet him, and taking notes on their comments.

The conversation turned frequently to diversity and opportunity for all students.

Philadelphia is home to populations of eastern Europeans, and, like Portland, southeast Asians, African-Americans and African refugees, Caulk said. Portland “takes my whole division and really compresses it in one district,” he said.

Caulk praised Portland schools for their acceptance of cultural diversity, including the multicultural-themed decorations on the walls. Students “see themselves in the school,” he said.

Many of the challenges of his Philadelphia district would transfer to Portland, he said. “One of the biggest gaps and challenges that we will face and certainly overcome is the opportunity gap,” he said. “I’m really big on increasing opportunities”

That goes for high-performing students as well as struggling ones, he said. Caulk said his work as an education administrator is two fold: to help struggling students catch up, and to give students who are already proficient the chance to “get to the global average a lot faster.”

“Sometimes your dream is bigger than the environment you were born into,” he said.

Caulk stressed the importance of parents, administrators, and teachers working together. “One of my core beliefs is that … it takes the whole community to ensure success of a school,” he said. “Parent satisfaction is a key measure.”

Caulk also discussed the role of technology in the classroom, when asked by a teacher. “I think we need to figure out how we can infuse technology in the classroom,” he said. “I think you need to have a plan that’s going to use technology to bring the curriculum to life.”

Digital proficiency is important, he said, and schools should use technology to challenge their students, while allowing them to develop skills. He cited the success of one Philadelphia student, who learned enough to creating apps.

Caulk was scheduled for similar public meetings at Lyman Moore Middle School and Casco Bay High School later on Tuesday.

He joins Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, deputy superintendent of the Paterson, N.J.,  school district, as the final candidates in Portland’s nationwide search for a replacement for James C. Morse Sr., who will retire June 15 and become superintendent of a New Hampshire school district.

Vanden Wyngaard met with members of the public at Casco Bay High School on May 15.

The School Board is expected to pick a candidate in mid-to-late June.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @ACullenFore.

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Portland school superintendent finalist Emmanuel Caulk.

Portland school superintendent finalist Emmanuel Caulk, left, with parents and school employees at the East End Community School on Tuesday morning.